Guy Clark At 72!

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By Emma Swift. Anyhow I Love You: Some Thoughts on Guy Clark on his Birthday

Guy Clark. The first three words that come to mind?

Grumpy.

Forgetful.

Brilliant.

The Texas songwriter has long been an old favourite of mine. Songs like ‘L.A. Freeway’ and ‘Desperados Waiting For A Train’ have been etched in my memory so long I don’t know where or when I heard them first. In my mind, it’s at a typical Australian barbeque party in the 1980s or early 1990s, some drunken extravaganza between my parents and their friends, full of booze and smoke and awkward suburban flirtations. I imagine Clark crackling away on a record player in the background, singing stories of heartache and history and struggle. I’m sure it’s just an imagining though,  since I know my parents, as full of heartache and struggle as they were, didn’t own any Guy Clark records. And it was only last year that my Mum asked if I’d heard of a guy she’d just listened to a radio documentary about – Townes Van Zandt. So I don’t know how or when or why I heard those songs. But I feel like they have been with me for good while.

Guy Clark – L.A. Freeway

As I write this, I’m listening to Old No. 1. 

Released in 1975, it was Clark’s first album and it features both ‘L.A. Freeway’ (Side A) and ‘Desperados’ (Side B), though Jerry Jeff Walker had already made the former a hit in 1971. In the liner notes for the album, Walker sums up his longtime songwriting friend thus:

GUY WRITES

OF OLD MEN

AND OLD TRAINS

AND OLD MEMORIES

LIKE BLACK & WHITE MOVIES

ETCHED

NO, CARVED LIKE CROW’S FEET

IN THE CORNERS OF HIS PAST

Clark celebrates his 71st birthday today and I just love that line – carved like crows feet. Even as a young, or at least much younger man he was writing songs with narratives that would work well, perhaps even better with age. It’s as though he knew he’d be singing for a good while.

Guy Clark – Anyhow I Love You

Guy Clark – That Old Time Feeling

I’ve been fortunate enough to attend three Guy Clark gigs in the past twelve or so months, one of many benefits of spending a good amount of time in Nashville.

The first was in early October last year. I had been in Music City for  two days with my dear friend and Western wear enthusiast Yvonne. We were happily oblivious to the fact that Clark had a show but a friend in the know was kind enough to pick us up at high speed from a bar in East Nashville and takes us where we needed to be. Clark played all his classics as well as a selection of new songs, including what I now regard as just about the most beautiful love song I have ever heard – ‘My Favourite Picture Of You’.

The song is a perfect blend of nostalgia, romance and real-life. I fell for it instantly. And I made myself a note – learn it.

My second Guy Clark show coincided with my second trip to Nashville, which was in June this year. It was a last-minute, one-week trip, the kind you book when you’re just deranged enough to think that a probably doomed from the start, long-distance romance of the mostly imagined kind might just work if you make a summertime visit. There’s a Ryan Adams song called ‘Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart’ that effectively sums this experience, so I’m going to leave it at that.

Heartbreaks aside, I did get to see Guy Clark. He was playing a private party for a rich Texan who had booked the show as a birthday gift for his wife. About 50 or maybe 60 people were there.

As a gig, it was pretty weird. Lots of polite clapping, a collection of birthday revelers, a delighted birthday wife, some industry types and a smattering of tourists who had stumbled upon the gig of a legend it’s likely they had never heard of. Still, I was delighted to be there. And hell, if your heart and head are a mess, it’s better to be a Guy Clark show than not, right?

And better still if you’re feeling like you’re meant to be there. Lost in the third verse of ‘My Favourite Picture Of You’, Guy asked his band – Verlon Thompson and Shawn Camp – for some assistance with the lyrics. When they didn’t know the words, an uncharacteristically shy and somewhat embarrassed me managed to holler (after prompting):

“A stand up angel…” 

My third Guy Clark show was just last week. Perched on my own at the venue bar, I had officially been a resident of Music City for six weeks. To be honest, I was feeling a bit lonesome and sorry for myself. Since moving from one side of the world to the other, to a place I love but am for the most part a stranger, I have discovered that it’s possible to hear two conflicting internal monologues at the same time. Namely: I am  having the best time of my life! / I am having the worst time of my life!  I don’t mean to sound like a whiner here. I love Nashville, I truly do. It’s just that I’m just in that awkward transition phase from tourist to resident.  And sometimes I’m so lonesome I could…

Still, and once more, with gusto… Better to be at a Guy Clark show than not, right?

The gig was being broadcast live to air on local radio station Lightning 100. I think because it was for radio, Guy was being extra charming. This meant grumpy as ever but with some occasional jokes. I particularly liked this one, which he saved for a moment of trademark forgetfulness:

“My short term memory doesn’t hold up too well. As my wife used to say, I could hide my own Easter eggs.” 

Fortunately for Guy Clark, there are many fans who have committed favourite songs to memory.

My favorite picture of you
is the one where you’re staring
straight into the lens

It’s just a polaroid shot
someone took on the spot
no beginning no end

It’s just a moment in time
you can’t have back
you never left but your bags were packed
just in case

My favourite picture of you
is bent and faded 
and it’s pinned to my wall

Oh and you were so angry
it’s hard to believe 
we were lovers at all

There’s a fire in your eyes
you’ve got your heart on your sleeve
a curse on your lips but all I can see
is beautiful

My favourite picture of you 
is the one where
your wings are showing

Oh and your arms are crossed
your fists are clenched
not gone but going

Just a stand up angel
who won’t back down
nobody’s fool, nobody’s clown
you were smarter than that

My favourite picture of you
is the one where 
it hasn’t rained yet

Oh and as I recall
came a winter squall
and we got soaking wet

It’s a thousand words
in the blink of an eye
the camera loves you and so do I 
click

My favourite picture of you
is the one where you’re staring
straight into the lens

POSTSCRIPT:

This past year has seen Guy Clark honored in the form of an exceptional tribute album, This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark.  You should buy it if you can. The double album features covers of his songs by Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and many more. Produced by Tamara Saviano and Shawn Camp, the record won Album of the Year at the Americana Music Honors & Awards held in Nashville this September at the Ryman Auditorium.

This past year has also seen Guy Clark lose his wife, Susanna Clark. She was an incredible songwriter and painter. She deserves to be more than a gig review after thought. With that in mind, stay tuned for a proper post on Susanna Clark, featuring some of her hit songs and the brilliant artists who covered them. I’ll also seek out some of the album artwork she designed since I know there’s some in my collection.

Brian Wise

Brian Wise was the Editor of Addicted To Noise‘s Australian site from 1997 – 2002. The site won two ONYA Awards as Best Online Music Magazine in 1999 & 2000. He has also been Editor since its reincarnation in 2013. He also presents the weekly music interview program Off The Record on 102.7 Triple R-FM (rrr.org.au) in Melbourne. It is networked to 45+ stations across Australia on the Community Radio Network and is a four-time winner of the Best Music Program Award from the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. In 2012, it was nominated as a finalist in the Excellence in Music Programming category. Brian was also the Founding Editor & Publisher of Rhythms Magazine and is now its Senior Contributing Editor.

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